When you place Concrete Knives’ debut full length Be Your Own King in your ears, there are a couple of strange sensations that occur. First and foremost, when the chorus of loose voices breaks through the upbeat indie motif within the first 30 seconds of ‘Bornholmer’, you get this sense that this record is going to be a collection of songs by a collective of friends who get together to have some fun and make music. While we are on the subject of collectives, the second thing that might strike you is the initial uncanny resemblance to a rather obscure Canadian band Greenbelt Collective who share the multi-vocal-record-while-partying vibe with their cousins from Normandy. Thirdly, Concrete Knives defy all logic by singing about ‘Happy Mondays’; I never knew such things existed. The French indie–rock scene does not exactly pride itself on buoyant pop songs (brilliant but more morose bands like The Dø come to mind). Regardless, for the first three tracks off of their debut, Concrete Knives ooze upbeat, indie party. Then, Be Your Own King becomes a study in contrast.
Their first single, ‘Wallpaper’ actually doesn’t sound too out of place until you watch the accompanying video which is shot in black and white, lit with hard shadows and features characters wearing frightening attire. The song’s place on the album signifies a change in the sound as well and introduces the notion that the Concrete Knives are not content to settle in any one given area. ’Africanize’ and the finisher, ‘Blessed’ go down a musically serious path severely diverting from ‘Brand New Start’, the third of three introductory songs that had us all jumping and dancing along. To further our study in contrast, we head for two curious tracks that seem like a Joan Jett revival experiment. ‘Greyhound Racing’ and ‘Wild Gun Man’ work the singalong chorus to the maximum and showcase the band’s dirtier side with ultra-catchy guitar riffs that cement themselves in the memory banks as easily as Jett’s ‘I Love Rock and Roll’ did. It is a captivating diversion and the band’s instinct not to replicate that particular pattern throughout the course of the album proves to be the right one as both those tracks benefit from a lack of competition; they are the only songs that fill you with the desire to test the limits of human hearing.
Part party, part ’80s rock revival and part twisted logic, Be Your Own King certainly follows its own advice by doing what it wants, when it wants to. The band’s modus operandi, however, generally falls back on a chorus of voices ripping through the lyrics and repeating that aesthetic through all the different peaks and valleys. What is glaringly evident is that the band, in its infancy, has already created a recognizable sound that stands out from the general commotion in the music world. The Concrete Knives will be a nice addition to the Bella Union family as they fit right in by not fitting in, instead, carving their own path while instructing us to do the same: Be Your Own King.